We left Alabama in our Dodge Caravan with a load of peaches. I know that doesn't sound like it makes a lot of sense, but my husband grew up on the Birmingham farmer's market and had, over the years, run several small retail produce enterprises. He knew produce. And he knew Wayne Franklin, a farmer in Alabama that grew beautiful, grapefruit-size peaches. We bought a load of peaches and planned on selling them along the way, to help defray some of the expenses of our trip.
It was a long trip.
We stopped at the Kansas City farmer's market to try selling some peaches, but got a bad feeling there. There seemed to be people in power who had the market locked up, so we went on down the road.
As we started into Kansas, we pulled off at the first small town and found a mom-and-pop grocery store. The produce manager was a black man whose eyes lit up when he saw that load of fresh Alabama peaches. We sold him quite a few.
We must have sold some more along the way there in eastern Kansas, though my memory is not clear on that, because when we stopped for gas somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we had just one basket left that we were saving to give to the goat breeder we were going to see. There at the gas station, we looked with wonder at the landscape of the Great Plains.
To Southern children, raised in the green hills of Appalachia, the flat vastness of the plains was like a foreign land. Flatness as far as the eye could see, in any direction. The concrete interstate bridge gave way to dirt and gravel road on either side of the highway, extending like a diminishing straight line -- due north and due south. And there, way off in the distance, came a tiny puff of smoke. We watched for many minutes as it slowly crept across the map of Kansas, toward the tiny oasis of the gas station. Then, roaring up in a cloud of yellow dust, a truck appeared.
It was a beat-up old pickup, driven by a dusty cowboy, complete with Levis, boots, and cowboy hat.
My husband couldn't resist. He went over, spoke for a moment with the cowboy, and led him over to our van. He reached over to the basket of ripe, rosy peaches and picked out a big one.
As he handed the peach to the cowboy, the young man remarked -- with awe in his voice -- "It's been a long time since I've seen a peach!"
The pleasure and amazement in his voice and eyes was payment enough for that treasured fruit of Alabama we had carried so far.
We stopped for lunch somewhere there in Kansas, searching a small town at an exit for the restaurant with the full parking lot and the most dusty cars and trucks. That would be where the good eating was.
Sure enough, the place was packed, and everyone (but us) seemed to know each other. Friendly voices echoed through the room, teasing the waitress, laughing with each other. Nicknames and first names were all I heard. These were good people.
That night we stopped at a rest area alongside the interstate. In the middle of the night, I opened my eyes to see the grill of an 18-wheeler sliding past the window of the van where we had been sleeping. A chill went through me. It was like being in a lagoon swimming with whales. There were huge trucks, all jostling for position in that small space, escaping a bad storm on the open road in the comparative safety of the rest area. I jabbed my husband in the ribs and yelled, "Get up! Get up! Look!"
We got the van off the parking lot and up on the grass and sidewalk, and we were safe from the huge beasts crowding what had been a small fishbowl.
Eventually we got the goats -- our 3 and the other family's one. Stopping at a welcome center to milk the doe in milk, we drew a lot of stares. We came over the Wind River Range, and I drove all night across Nebraska while my husband slept. I saw the lights of Cabela's way off there to the left as I cruised through the blackness in the backdraft of a tractor-trailer rig, waking my husband only as we drew near the city of Lincoln.
Funny how, of all the stories we brought home from that little 2-day quest, the one that my mind turns to most often is the scene in the restaurant, with a lot of friendly people who all seemed to know each other. Small-town America.
It seems now, looking around me, that much has been lost in 16 years. It seems now that the richness and the friendliness of America is fading away. Our government has robbed us of our wealth and given it to other nations. Our people have forgotten we are all family...we are all Americans. A lot of people who are not Americans and never want to be Americans have come in among us, weakening us as a people. Foreigners have bought land among us, robbing us of that heritage, too.
Most of all, a whole generation has grown up that knows not God.
Oh, there have always been a few atheists among us... usually people who were too intellectually lazy to search God out, or angry with Him for not doing or being what they wanted. But now there is a whole generation who not only don't know Him but have no interest at all in spiritual matters. They feed their flesh, and that's all that seems to matter.
And that lack of God makes people selfish and angry. There is too much anger among us now, and not enough familiar affection.
I don't know all that's been lost, but I sense the lack. I miss the hope and joy that we once had as a people. I miss "nation," and I hate "homeland." Something's changed. Something's gone. And I weep with regret at the loss.